PAUL SPINKS

THE EV­ERY­DAY HOR­RORS OF HIS WORK HAVE LED THIS PARAMEDIC TO SPEAK OUT ON MEN­TAL HEALTH

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - PEOPLE - AS TOLD TO DENISE RAWARD

I’m from Mel­bourne and started my work­ing life as a com­mer­cial pi­lot. I came up to fly on the Gold Coast and got in­volved with air­line safety. Even then I was in­ter­ested in peo­ple’s be­hav­iours, look­ing at ac­ci­dents and why planes crash.

I did post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in coun­selling and joined the Queens­land Am­bu­lance Ser­vice where I’ve worked as an ad­vanced care paramedic for 16 years. It’s sur­pris­ing how what I learned in the avi­a­tion years fol­lowed through to am­bu­lance work.

When you look at how the Swiss cheese holes line up for dis­as­ters to hap­pen in fly­ing, it’s the same sort of for­mula for peo­ple’s health. We have all these bar­ri­ers that are sup­posed to stop all the holes lin­ing up, but then the per­fect storm comes along.

With peo­ple that can be the al­co­hol we’re drink­ing five days a week, the Val­ium we’re tak­ing, what we’re do­ing to our­selves in our lives. When I joined the am­bu­lance, I imag­ined the work would be car ac­ci­dents and trauma but that’s only about five per cent of it. A lot of my work is just crawl­ing through dys­func­tion: men­tal health, al­co­hol, drugs.

So much of my work is about restor­ing calm, just try­ing to set­tle things down at an­other life atroc­ity.

There’s a des­per­ate mes­sage that needs to be told about men­tal health and the more I learned, the more I wanted to ad­vo­cate on how we ap­proach the is­sues. We’ve got a real cri­sis on our hands. When one in two of us are suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion and sui­cide is the lead­ing cause of death for peo­ple aged be­tween 15 and 44, this is mega.

There were 36 mil­lion pre­scrip­tions for an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tion in Aus­tralia last year, the sec­ond high­est rate in the world. Some­how we treat that as an ac­cept­able norm. As a fa­ther of two kids, I say no, that’s not OK. We need to be hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion about it, with our kids, part­ners, fam­ily, friends and work col­leagues.

But it’s not just about men­tal health, it’s about phys­i­cal health as well.

We’ve got to ask: are we mi­cro­manag­ing our­selves sick or mi­cro­manag­ing our­selves well? It’s all con­nected.

We’re so com­pla­cent. We rot on the in­side and when we rot on the out­side, we rock up to the doc­tors and they say here’s a pill for that, then there’s a pill for blood pres­sure, choles­terol, heart med­i­ca­tion and the list goes on. Peo­ple are tak­ing their eyes off their own health. We’ve got our­selves into this spi­ral and we need to get off.

I started to speak out about it be­cause peo­ple need to hear the mes­sage. I started talk­ing to schools and vol­un­tary groups and as­so­ci­a­tions, then I got asked to speak to the cor­po­rate sec­tor. I’ve trav­elled around Aus­tralia do­ing that.

When I do my speak­ing, I bring in some of my hor­ren­dous am­bu­lance sto­ries. I went to a home where a 15-year-old girl had hung herself in the shower. She wrote a note to say she’d had a bad cou­ple of days.

Kids are tak­ing their life be­cause they’ve had a bad week. So­cial me­dia can feed into that. When you’re get­ting up near 10 peo­ple sui­cid­ing a day in Aus­tralia and an­other 30 at­tempt­ing it, you’ve got to ask why aren’t we talk­ing about this?

We’ve got peo­ple in war-torn coun­tries try­ing to keep alive and here we are try­ing to end our lives.

The an­swer’s not in a pre­scrip­tion. We’ve got to go back to the grass­roots.

I say to peo­ple when you go home tonight, what is your con­nec­tion with your fam­ily? We are starv­ing for con­nec­tion.

You’ve got to in­vest in your men­tal health and so­cial con­nec­tion is a big part of that. Then there’s good nutri­tion and ex­er­cise — the ba­sics.

Men­tal health is­sues can sneak up as the pres­sure builds. You’ve got to be aware and make real changes. We’re work­ing harder in this coun­try and we’re buy­ing more shiny things. We’ve taken our eyes off our val­ues.

No one who’s ended up on an am­bu­lance trol­ley ever told me they wished they’d spent more time at work or earned more money. It seems we’ve got this thing called life so hor­ri­bly wrong.

“KIDS ARE TAK­ING THEIR LIFE BE­CAUSE THEY’VE HAD A BAD WEEK. SO­CIAL ME­DIA CAN FEED INTO THAT.”

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